The selling of ethics
The ethics of business meets the
business of ethics
Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark
Baruch College, The City University of New York, New York, USA
Somebody, presumably Groucho Marx, once offered the following advice: “The secret of
success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake these, you’ve got it made” (The Economist,
1993, p. 71).
The ethics of business: are we part of the solution or the problem?
What is it about the structure of our economic system that so often pits profits
against people? And why are the former so regularly the victor? Why is it that
our system so regularly produces patterns of behaviour that are not ethical
according to even most contemporary standards? Are academics in accounting
and other business disciplines contributing to the problem or to the solution
when we examine the issue of ethics in our teaching and research?
When academics fail to raise these kinds of fundamental questions and
instead treat ethics as a problem for individual decision makers operating in a
socio-economic vacuum (or in one pre-structured by natural law), and/or as a
problem that can be solved through the application of logical rules and codes of
conduct, we contribute to the notion that individuals are responsible only for
their own behaviour and not for the system itself. To contribute to finding a
solution to capitalism’s recurring problems of competing interests, which are at
the heart of all contemporary ethical dilemmas, scholars must begin
interrogating their own and society’s unexamined assumptions about what
constitutes an ethical dilemma and the rules for resolving it, something we
rarely do in either our teaching or our research.
This article contributes to this interrogation by critically examining the ways
in which the boundaries of business ethics are being established in business
schools, consulting firms and corporations.
The ethics of business: what makes a company socially responsible?
“If you’re pro-business, you also have to be concerned about things like jobs in
the inner city and the 38 million Americans living below the poverty line”,
Accounting, Auditing &
Accountability Journal, Vol. 8
No. 3, 1995, pp. 81-96. © MCB
University Press, 0951-3574
The author would like to express her thanks to her partner, Alisa Solomon, to her colleagues,
Tony Tinker (Baruch College) and Kristi J. Yuthas (University of New Mexico), and to the anony-
mous reviewers for this journal, for their helpful comments and suggestions as she was develop-
ing this article. A version of this article appeared in Thesis, the magazine of the Graduate
School and University Center, The City University of New York, New York City, New York, 1994.